What a disgrace:  During the current meet at Aqueduct racetrack, there to date have been 171 races held and ten horses have suffered injuries that resulted in their deaths.  This equates to an unheard of and outrageous fatality rate per 1,000 starts (the Jockey Club reports that the overall fatality rate per thousand starts in the United States is 1.9 for dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces combined).  Moreover, the ten deaths is three more than the number suffered during the entirety of last year’s meet.

David Grening of the Daily Racing Form reported that “…six of the seven fatalities that were musculoskeletal in nature–and that were not the result of a spill–involved horses running in lower-level claiming races. One horse, Wicked Irish, was returning from a two-year layoff and showed one published workout in the interim. That fatality led the New York Racing Association to change its protocols regarding workouts, a change that goes into effect Jan. 28.”

The dreadful situation at Aqueduct is unfortunately not an aberration.  An article by Joe Drape and Walter Bogdanich in the September 28, 2012 New York Times reported the results of an extensive investigation of 21 horse deaths at Aqueduct racetrack during the winter 2012 meet.  The article said in part:

“More than half of the 21 racehorses who had fatal breakdowns at Aqueduct Racetrack earlier this year might have been saved had racing authorities more closely monitored their health and the liberal use of prescription drugs to keep them racing, according to an investigation ordered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.

Both racing officials and regulatory veterinarians, who were supposed to protect the horses, often ignored signs that they were ailing and allowed them to race for purses inflated with money from the track’s adjacent gambling casino, according to people with direct knowledge of the investigation’s report.

The investigation found that veterinarians and officials of the New York Racing Association often cared more about filling races that generate revenue for trainers, owners and the racetracks than about whether horses were fit to compete.”

Aqueduct’s current round of carnage signals loud and clear that racetrack management has obviously ignored findings of the 2012 investigation.  The main culprit is most likely the running of unsound and injury-prone horses in bottom-level claiming races.

From a purely business standpoint, the current Aqueduct meet has been a success, as year-over-year pari-mutuel handle is up by 10%.  However, from a humane perspective, the meet has been an intolerable failure and a black-eye for horse racing in the United States.

Part of the answer to the recurring problem of horse deaths at Aqueduct is obvious:  Have fewer race days and rigorously and honestly vet the entries.

Impractical, some might say.  After all, owners and trainers need opportunities to make a living.  Yes, they certainly do, but common sense and common decency dictate that the welfare of racehorses and the safety of jockeys come first…or at least should come first.

If Aqueduct management can’t figure out what is causing the problems, year after year, and find at least a partial solution, then it is better to run no meet at all.

At Aqueduct, it seems that it is always deja vu all over again.  And that’s a shame.

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business


  1. The NY Times this week ran unflattering photos of the horse players at the Big A. The impression was that it is populated by lonely degenerates. This and the horse fatalities leave a terrible image. Won’t be long before Cuomo closes down the subsidized racing at Aqu. The powers that be at NYRA brought it on themselves for the most part.

  2. Thanks for saying what lots of people think but don’t come out and say. Where are the NY racing leaders on the scandal at Aqueduct?